Nudging: easy, cheap and effective?

The World Food Center Experience wants to make people aware of what they eat and how their food choices affect themselves and the world around them. More conscious choices must lead to better choices. But to achieve actual behavioral change, awareness alone is not enough. When we have other things on our mind, it is not that simple to say no to daily temptations. Even though we know so well that we would better make other choices.

Effectiveness of Nudging in real life
That is why there is currently a lot of interest in nudging: influencing behavior without the need for willpower. But how effective is this approach? Does nudging also work in the long term? Are the effects large enough to really have an impact on health?

During the Annual Healthy Innovation Congress, on June 6 at the WFC Merije from Rookhuijzen (Wageningen University & Research) the possibilities and limitations of nudging when changing and assessing eating behavior: "It is fascinating to see how consumer choices can be influenced by apparently irrelevant adjustments."

When do nudges work or not?
The popularity of nudging has been increasing strongly in recent years. Since the code of conduct 'Nudge'was released in 2008, it is particularly popular with organizations that want to seduce consumers into' good 'behavior. Behavior that is in the interest of the individual and society.

“Making people aware of course influences the conscious choice process, but many of the purchasing and consumption decisions concerning our daily food are made much less consciously. We make so many choices a day that a large part of it goes unconsciously. Simply because we do not have the capacity to make all choices conscious. "

“With such an unconscious choice you can be influenced by a nudge. Awareness-raising and education can therefore have an additional effect on nudging and vice versa, whereby nudges can also create awareness themselves. ”

“Nudging seems easy, cheap and effective. But for the time being, many questions can be asked about this. "

"In our research we look at the effectiveness of nudging in practice, in real life," says Merije van Rookhuijzen. “In the standard nudging studies, much has already been looked at what happens when you put products in a supermarket in prominent places, such as at eye level. Under controlled conditions you can then see whether something has an effect. But only at that moment. I also want to know if nudges can also have an impact in the long term. Do people continue to eat brown bread even after the nudge has lapsed? And if the consumer enters another supermarket, are the previously observed effects still there? ”

“We have done a major study in two football cantines. In the first phase, the healthy products were only added to the range. In the second phase, nudging took place in various ways. That way we could place the desired products on the bar and present them, position them at eye level or at the front in the refrigerators. We also offered healthy varieties as standard. For example, if someone asked for an AA sports drink, we automatically gave the sugar-free version. "

More research needed
“The sales figures showed that these nudges helped, but it remained marginal in the end. The supply and sale of unhealthy products in the sports canteens remained many times greater. Nudges alone are not enough. You must also use and combine other behavioral influencing techniques. We also need to do more research into the 'shelf life' of the nudge. In the figures for our canteen, for example, we first saw an increase, then a decrease and later an increase in sales of healthy, 'nudged' products. ”

"The success of a nudge also depends on the strength of other factors that also unknowingly influence your behavior," says Merije. “So if you are really looking forward to a big bite, placing an apple at eye level won't help. If you only want to eat then eye level might influence your choice. Knowledge and awareness are not enough, just like food labels. "

“Nudgen takes small steps and can be strengthened in combination with other elements from behavioral psychology. Certainly more research is also needed, for example, we still do not know how the nudges undermine the conscious and independent capacity of the consumer to choose. If a consumer is always used to seeing that the best product for him is at eye level, it may also be that he then no longer thinks and always takes those products at eye level. ”

Merije van Rookhuijzen is a PhD candidate in the Consumption and Healthy Lifestyles chair group at Wageningen University & Research. Merije studied psychology at Radboud University and health & society at Wageningen University.

Look here for more information about the program and sign up.


WFC EDE, 10 am - 6 pm

The congress deals with the issues surrounding sugar on the basis of three main themes: the product same food environment in which it is offered and the lifestyle of consumers.

The product: new sugars or fewer sugars?
This is the challenge: how do you get sugar from cookies, soft drinks and sauces? Are artificial sweeteners like that harmless? Is reformulation really possible? Sugar reduction is nice and nice, but companies want to continue to sell a good product.

The food environment: de-sugaring the supply
Everywhere you are tempted by sweet, but also by fat and salt food. The supermarket is full of it and it costs less than healthy food. Does it help if snacks with less sugar are also offered?

The lifestyle: designing your life with little sugar
Lifestyle change is the magic word. Everyone must eat and drink less sugar. That is not at all that simple in a household with children. It starts with becoming alert to sugar. What is in what? And is all sugar the same?